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Why is the Catholic Mass so Boring?

March 1, 2011

There is no doubt we live in an entertainment culture. It’s gotten to the point, made especially clear over the past several days, that our entertainment is no longer just entertainment, it’s also our news. We turn to our celebrities with the expectation, not just for them to provide us with entertainment through their talents, but with the turmoil of their lives. Meanwhile, legitimate news items vie for a small sliver of air time.

This is not, I assure you, a rant against our culture, as much as it is an observation that now, perhaps more than ever before, we are culture driven by the desire for entertainment.

With this truth in mind, I suppose it’s not surprising that people often ask me, “Why is the Catholic Mass so boring?”

Years ago, I made the same claim. I remember even declaring that the church was out of touch and irrelevant because it didn’t make efforts to reach people where they are, and instead rested on the laurels of the liturgy, expecting people to just simply follow along.

It was this attitude towards the church that made me strike out for greener pastures, where I eventually became an evangelical protestant minister. “This,” I thought, “is a church that seeks people out and tries to communicate with them on their own terms.” I read books on building a seeker-driven church that made the church-going experience comfortable, relatable and more in line with the entertainment driven culture.

The church experience of evangelical Protestantism came with a promise: this is a place where you will be fed. The worship experience and sermons were directed at me, as an individual, and my primary concern was my “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Many people came and went from the church where I worked. People would leave their evangelical protestant church to join our evangelical protestant church. When asked, “Why?,” the answers generally had something to do with not being “fed” by that church any more. It was usually only a matter of time before they moved on from our community as well, likely citing the same reason.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising to me but, building a church on entertainment and the promise of “personal relationship” with Christ only seemed to be resulting in one thing: a “community” characterized by individualism rather than true community. The culture of the church was one in which the individual’s preferences and personal growth were paramount over the building of a true community of faith.

In contrast to this reality, I held the description of the early Church in the second chapter of the book of Acts:

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and held all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day the devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple are and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

-Acts 2: 44-47, NAB

I can’t help, even now, to be struck by the words, “every day the Lord added to their numbers those who were being saved.” People were saved, not because the church was entertaining, or because it held the promise of personal growth, but because, in it existed the love of God and Jesus Christ through the outpouring of community.

Everywhere I go and almost everything I do in our culture is about getting the most for myself as an individual. It’s about having choices and being able to pick my unique entertainment experience, to put on my iPod ear phones and shut out the world around me rather than living in an amongst my neighbor in love.

Perhaps church shouldn’t be like that. Maybe it shouldn’t be about the music I like or picking a place where the preacher is entertaining. What if, instead of looking for an experience where I am “fed,” I am supposed to be looking for a place where “I” am the least important part of the experience, and the emphasis is on God? If the worship experience were more like that, wouldn’t I be more likely to stop loving myself so darn much and start loving my neighbor just a little bit more?

The Catholic Church will always be “boring” to most because it’s not “seeker friendly.” While variety exists in the types of music being offered at masses, the central component of the worship experience will never be about me, my tastes or the music at all. Rather, it will be about putting myself aside, stepping in to the presence of God, and trying to think in terms of a divine community that begins here and now and continues on in eternity.

When you’re at mass next week, I challenge you not to think too much about the choir being off-key, or the dullness of your priest’s homily. Instead, think about the fact that you’re witnessing a miracle take place in the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Think about the fact that, in each mass we join “with all the choirs of angels in heaven” and “join their unending hymn of praise.” In other words: think about the fact that Church is about you willingly stepping into the mysterious and wonderful presence of God in community, seeking Him out rather than passively sitting and just waiting to be fed.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. reinkat permalink
    March 2, 2011 12:12 am

    Chris, you nailed it. Thanks.

    • Chris permalink*
      March 2, 2011 8:46 am

      Thanks Reinkat. Appreciate you stopping by to check out the blog.

  2. Chris permalink
    March 2, 2011 11:36 am

    Chris, this is a great article. In fact, I will say one of your best.

    At face value, Mass is boring. 3 readings, a short homily, a few group prayers, money in a basket, standing/sitting/kneeling, everyone gets up and walks to the alter, receives Communion, kneels again, stands, prays, genuflect, leave.

    No backflips, no pyrotechnics, no dancing on stage. No one tells me that I can interpret the Bible however I want. The exact opposite is true and I have to listen to what other people say it means.

    How is entering through a flaming ring, on a motorcycle, with explosions, some heavy metal (Christian of course) and a huge choreographed dance/performance leading into a presentation showing any respect to God? It really seems to put the spectacle and focus on the preacher, not on God. Who are we really worshiping then? Yes, I went there. Take away some of the exaggerated elements and I still ask, who is really being worshiped in this sort of huge production? Is it God…or something/someone else?

    I have even heard complaints about the choreographed standing, sitting, kneeling.

    Just like you said, dig down a level. We hear God’s word 3 times. We exalt and worship God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We profess or faith weekly. We sing songs for God not for ourselves. We experience Jesus’ body and blood. Mass is about God and Jesus, not about us. The Mass is TRUTH and that cannot be diluted. The way we carry ourselves (standing, sitting, kneeling) is respect and reverence for God.

    • Chris permalink*
      March 2, 2011 2:10 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Mr. Harvey and the good thoughts. I have to believe that people of almost every denomination have the best of intentions. It’s all, as you clearly state, a question of “am I here to get something for me” or “am I here to offer myself to God?”

      I love being a community of faith in the mass.

      Thanks again, my friend.

      -Chris

  3. Ryan permalink
    March 2, 2011 8:54 pm

    Great post, as always, Chris. You go right to the heart of the issue. I’m working on this right now as I am still such a new Catholic and came from the evangelical protestant background. I don’t think mass is boring but reminding myself that it’s not about me but rather about taking part in the mystery and beauty of Christ is always a challenge. Thanks for the reminders! I’ll be sharing this on Facebook!

    • April 17, 2011 1:38 pm

      You can tell yourself that Mass is not boring but the fact it is, it will suck the spirit right out of you. God’s ways and the learning of God’s ways and the better practice of God’s ways is NOT boring. If the Catholic Church doesn’t learn that there are new and better ways to present God, their membership will continue to decline. Catholics (and I am a reluctant one looking for a new spiritual home) seem to think that if it’s not boring, it must be false. Break out of the dark ages, come into today’s world where God is patiently waiting for you.

      • Chris permalink*
        April 17, 2011 8:13 pm

        Navye12, thanks for stopping by. Obviously, I respectfully disagree with your claim that the mass can “suck the spirit right out of you.” I say that because, while the mass is not always exciting in the ways that I am stimulated via traditional entertainment, if I can put myself into the position of recognizing the TRUE presence of Christ (first in the word of God, and then in the eucharist), then Mass becomes anything but boring.

        Do you think the performance of a miracle would be a boring thing to witness? The transubstantiation of water and wine into the body and blood of Christ is nothing short of a miracle, but I have to open my eyes to see that and recognize what’s going on. That’s not a boring thing at all.

        I think we all agree that there things the Church can do better to get it’s message out. But, and this might be a shock to you, you have to stop thinking about the “church” as the hierarchy of leadership, and begin thinking of yourself as the the church. If you do that, the question then becomes, “am I helping ‘present God’ in ways that challenge and enlighten people.’” Don’t look for a bunch of over-worked priests to step up and be what you want the church to be. YOU BE THE CHURCH… and bring the light of Christ and the fullness of faith to people in ways that are interesting and creative.

        That’s the call to the “new evangelization” that JP II has issued and Pope Benedict XVI has issued. That’s the call I’m trying to answer via This Pilgrim’s Progress. God is patiently waiting for you to be a part of the solution.

      • August 1, 2011 3:22 pm

        Navye12, I don’t know if you’ve ever done any sort of Scripture study on the origins of the Eucharist or of the Mass, or perhaps on the history of the early Christian Church, but I can tell you from experience, as a Catholic who used to be bored at Mass, doing your homework on the subject will unlock an entirely new way of seeing things.

        Take a look at the Book of Revelation. What are some of the images we see there?
        -Consecrated, celibate men in white robes making bloodless sacrifices.
        -Hosts of worshippers singing “Alleluia” and “Glory be to God” and “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”
        -Intercessory prayers being lifted to God, represented by sweet-smelling incense.
        -The prayers of the saints coming from beneath the altar.
        -The Lamb of God, Jesus Himself, bringing all the people together in His wedding feast.
        -The reading of scrolls (Scripture) pouring out God’s mercy on the just and His wrath upon the sinners.
        -Mary, the woman crowned in heaven and clothed with stars, bringing forth her Son to defeat the great beasts.
        -The defeat of Satan by the self-sacrifice of the Lamb.
        -God’s people worshipping together in a sanctuary dedicated to Him, a new transformed Temple of Jerusalem, a spiritual house of God not bound by mere physical or geographic constraints.

        This is what happens at every single Mass. Or, more accurately, all of these are physical images we can use to try and wrap our brains around what happens in spiritual terms at Mass. Check it out:
        -Consecrated, celibate men in white robes? Priests. Deacons. Altar servers.
        -The “Alleluia,” “Gloria,” and “Holy Holy” are sung at every Sunday Mass.
        -Intercessory prayer? We do that every Mass – the Prayers of the Faithful.
        -Prayers of the saints coming from beneath the altar – did you know that Catholic Churches have relics of saints beneath their altars? Ask your pastor what relics are under your church’s altar.
        -The Lamb of God bringing people together in His wedding feast? We sing “Lamb of God, have mercy on us” over and over just before receiving Christ in the Eucharist – the wedding feast where we consume the Bread of Life.
        -The reading of Scripture? Of course. We actually read more Scripture in one Mass than many Protestant churches do in a month of Sundays.
        -Mary, Queen of Heaven, bringing forth Jesus? What other church honors Mary as Queen of Heaven, and what other church can claim to actually bring forth Jesus Himself in the Eucharist? (FYI: the physical building of the church is sometimes referred to as “Mary’s womb”.)
        -The defeat of Satan by the self-sacrifice of the Lamb? The Lamb Himself told us in John 6 that “I am the Bread of Life,” and at the Last Supper told us that this is His “flesh for the life of the world” and “blood of the new and everlasting covenant”.
        -God’s people worshipping together in a sacred place, both physical and beyond physical? We come together in Mass in unity with all Catholics around the world, in the Divine Liturgy. It’s literally heaven on earth, period.

        So Mass is not boring by any stretch of the imagination. It just takes a little understanding of what’s going on. A good place to start is The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn. I hope you find what you’re looking for, and I hope you find it here, in your home, in Christ’s beautiful Bride, the Catholic Church.

  4. Justin permalink
    September 29, 2012 11:33 pm

    I just have a few comments which root from my personal struggle with finding the right spiritual home for me. I’ve grown up baptist and for the past 5 years entered the Catholic community during the process of marring my Wife. More recently I’ve been attending non-catholic christian church and I really feel “awake” like never before and the following are a few opinions/comments about some of the above and what I feel is different for me now.
    1.) I dont think any Christian denomination is “better” than any other. It saddens me to see a separatist attitude, even among Christians. With or without “rings of fire”, we are all there to grow/praise/learn God. It is this attitude that I’ve witnessed that has pushed me away from my previous churches, including the Catholic one which almost comes off with a “we do it a better way” attitude which is not in line with God’s instructions and doesn’t bring us all together as we should be.
    2.) ENERGIZING the people in a mass/sermon/etc is a lot more effective at spreading God’s word and motivating them to reach out to others to help them/deliver the good news than a monotonic, enthusiasm-less one. When I say energizing, I dont necessarily mean ‘entertaining” since I full-heartedly agree that church/mass is about God (spirtuality), not physical manifestations. Instead, it means expressing passion and enthusiasm and all the things that shake your spirit (internally). I do feel that songs that are relevant to modern day styles, passionate homilies/messages, calls to action to help your neighbors or some homeless or anyone and having the church lead the call all contribute to spreading God’s word and connecting “MAN” to God. It is not very energizing to follow the same scripted prayers, stands/sits, and off-key choir witch dont seem very passionate.
    3.) Helping others, spreading God’s word(s), etc etc should be VERY emphasized since that is one of the most important commands from Jesus. A core focus here is vital to energizing and harmonizing the mass/church and those who have not yet found God. In my experience, the churches which have not actively or passionately (during mass/church) lead/motivated/called the community to action here have not done enough. Printing in a program doesnt count.
    4.) Finding anyway to deliver the message is more important than following traditional practices. The most inspiring church I’ve been to reaches out weekly, even daily in various ways and they are so successful at brining SOO many people to God [e.g. free car washes, neighborhood BBQ's, not to mention those who come from attended services for baptism etc]. In contrast, while the last few sentences highlight the countless people brought to God, the most recent RCIA program at the Catholic church I was attending had only 3 people in it….3. Thats not counting the children who “decide” to follow Christ but seriously, that is uninspiring….oh, and thats for the year…It was very similar the previous several years with <5 each time. It seems the Catholic church, or at least mine, was not doing a good job at bringing others to Christ and It seems, to me, that its because there is little outreach, if any, a long winded process of education focused partially on God and partially on joining the Church. Its my belief that if a person wants to follow Christ, it doesnt take months of education, it should happen immediately. They may not always know why or where there spiritual desire comes from, but thats something which can take a lifetime. It seems to me that RCIA is more focused on following the rules than it is about bringing as many people, as quickly as possible, to God. Which is what it should be about (a minimal understanding is needed, but that can happen in < 10-30min message, its happened to many!). I would contrast the RCIA approach to falling in Love: You don't meet your wife/husband/etc and then decide that you better study them for 1+ years before you fall in-love with them (although some might argue the contrary). No, instead you meet them and in a VERY short time you either do or dont fall in love (i.e. chemistry, transformational love)…not the I love you because we've been together for so long kind, the hit you in the face love…which is what I would compare it to for someone who has just discovered Jesus….and then you spend the rest of your life getting to know them, i.e. God, not the nuiances of the mass service which is unimportant, relatively speaking. Just seems like the wrong priorities is all.

    At the end of the day, its our job to reach out to as many people as possible to spread the good news of God and to help our fellow men/women in need, just as Jesus did. Along the way, prayer, eucharist, praise, etc are all practiced spiritually and physically. I don't think it matters what approach any particular person takes, so long as it works for them. What I hear and have experienced though, is that the Catholic church is less effective at lighting that fire in our souls that takes us to the next level spiritually. Theres no need arguing about what a person "SHOULD" take away from the rituals/methods/etc of the Catholic church, if its not having that effect (due to delivery style or other), as it has not for me, then "something" should be changed. After all, we're all on the same campaign..for God, not for a particular denomination. Whatever path makes the campaign most successful, is the path we should all follow.

  5. Sprint permalink
    January 13, 2013 10:41 am

    I agree 100% Justin.

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